Monday, August 8, 2011

A sheriff on both sides of the law (Part II)

That's a headline I used once before, here. Now, a story in a Montana newspaper last week gives me a reason to roll it out again. A front-page story in the Great Falls Tribune reported on August 3, 2011, that the sheriff of Roosevelt County, "Freedom Crawford of Wolf Point, was charged with misdemeanor assault and obstructing a peace officer, along with two other offenses, following a fight at a downtown bar here early Tuesday morning. The altercation resulted in one man being transported to the emergency room with cuts to his face."

The report notes that one man was transported to the emergency room with cuts to his face following the fight. It also notes that Crawford and several of his deputies are in Lewistown, population 5,938 the county seat of Fergus County (population 11,218), for an evidentiary hearing related to Barry Beach's 1984 conviction for the beating death of Kim Nees of Poplar in 1979.

The Great Falls paper has been full of news about Beach's hearing this week. He has already served more than a quarter of a 100-year sentence in the Montana State Prison, but he has maintained his innocence for 27 years, arguing that the "confession that put him behind bars was coerced by aggressive investigators." Beach's lawyers are "trying to convince District Judge Wayne Phillips that he deserves a new trial based on the testimony of a string of witnesses who he says implicate a group of jealous girls in Nees' murder more than 30 years ago." A headline later in the week indicates that judge has called for written briefs in the matter before he will permit all of the new testimony being offered, having heard the testimony proferred by a 2008 district court petition by Beach.

Roosevelt County, population 10,231, is in far eastern Montana, on the state line with North Dakota. It's county seat is Wolf Point, population 2,533. Fergus County, on the other hand, is in central Montana, which suggests a change of venue for this evidentiary hearing, as Fergus and Roosevelt counties are not likely in the same judicial district.

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